Junhao Chen

Junhao Chen

Ribbon cutting signals construction phase

NANAIMO – Ground-breaking on Gordon Street-site unlikely to start before October.

SSS Manhao has announced the start of construction for a multimillion-dollar conference centre hotel.

Nanaimo dignitaries and the SSS Manhao International Tourism Group held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday on the site of a future 21-storey hotel to mark the start of the construction phase. The project is expected to get underway this October and be in operation by 2017, although the company is still in the process of securing a building permit.

Mayor John Ruttan said the recent announcement is “exciting.” The Gordon Street lot has sat empty for nearly a decade after failed attempts to build a hotel by Triarc and Millennium developments.

Now SSS Manhao, a B.C. affiliate of a major Chinese tourism company, has plans to create a $50-million hotel, which designs show will have connecting tunnels to Piper Park and the conference centre, a swimming pool and 14 commercial units. It’s also expected to draw 70,000 Chinese tourists each year.

“It looks like it’s going to finally work out,” Ruttan said. “It’s about five years late, but I am still so excited because this is one of the primary things that I always felt was an important goal for me and for the city to have.”

City officials have believed that quality hotel rooms are key to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre meeting its potential and relying less on taxpayer subsidies.

This year, conference centre operators predict they will be over budget by $119,000, due to lower than expected revenues last spring and fewer bookings.

According to Ruttan, SSS Manhao has indicated it wants the conference centre and conferences to be its primary market.

“This is going to be not only huge for the hotel, it’s going to be huge for the conference centre and what’s good for both of them is excellent for the City of Nanaimo,” he said.

SSS Manhao hotel representative Junhao Chen said, via a translator, his company wants to bring more guests to the city, which he said is paradise to Chinese people.

Construction is expected to be complete by 2016 and the hotel operational a year later.

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce  and the Suzhou Commercial Association of Canada also took part in a signing event on Wednesday to formally establish a new relationship between the two groups.